Dietary issues have become the norm these days. Whether food aversions, part of a health plan, fads or actual allergies, it seems everyone has something they want to avoid. In order to ensure compliance to their various and sundry food schticks, people are telling restaurant servers that they are highly allergic to whatever they don’t wish to eat. While that seems like a worthy plan, it turns the kitchen upside down.
When someone says they have a food allergy, the kitchen must stop everything and create an area that is 100% contaminent free. This means clearing and cleaning a special work area to prepare that single meal, sterilizing all of the cutting boards, knives, tongs pans and other equipment that might be used to prepare the food. Once the food has been prepared in this special environment, it is often brought to the patron by a hostess or manager, who has not touched any other dishes. They use a clean towel, or disinfectant wipe to touch the plate. This is mandatory practice to ensure that the food is free of anything that might make it’s recipient sick.
When we say we have an allergy when in reality we simply are trying to avoid a certain ingredient, we are causing the kitchen to undergo extreme and unnecessary measures.
When I was in the throes of my highly restrictive Whole 3o diet plan, I had the occassion to eat out a few times. I selected the menu item that was closest to being compliant, and asked for a few simple modifications. I remember distinctly telling the server that I was on a restricted diet and could not eat certain foods, but was not allergic and did not require them to clean the kitchen or make special provisions for me. I am sure it was appreciated, and my meal seemed to come out in perfect compliance to my requests, even if it may have been cooked in a pan that formerly held butter, or was touched by someone who had cooked a legume for someone else.
I recently read an article about a young women who never considered asking if the chili had nuts, and died before discovering that the secret ingredient to the famous chili she ate was in fact, peanut butter.
If you have a food allergy, it is important to let your server know so that they can be sure that there are no suprise ingredients in your food that might make you ill. If you are simply trying to avoid a certain food, it is prudent to tell them that as well. They can steer you to dishes that are closer to meeting your dietary needs, and can request that the chef alters your order to suit you, without wrecking havoc in the kitchen. And please, don’t be the boy who cried wolf. Servers report frustration in seeing the person who had just inflicted turmoil in the kitchen eating a bite of someone else’s food riddled with the ingredient they worked so hard to eliminate. If you can’t have gluten in your entree, please don’t order cake for dessert.
When dining out, be aware of your food issues, and choose a place that can easily accommodate them. Don’t go to a seafood shack with a shellfish allergy, a pizza place with a gluten sensitivity, or a fondue shop with lactose intolerence. If you have an allergy, make it known, but don’t abuse that option if in fact you just don’t like something. Everyone will benefit in the long run.
Photo: Glasshouse Images
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